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Chapter 2 - The Great and the Good in the Scholarly World: The Royal Society and the British Academy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 September 2020

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Summary

History is not pure science, it is not exact science, but it is science nonetheless. For science can be nothing but ordered knowledge, and whenever truth is sought by the method appropriate to the case, a scientific investigation is in progress, even if the results be indefinite.

Percy Gardner

[Francis Haverfield] knew so much that he could acknowledge uncertainty and the doubt that arises from insufficient evidence, without attempting to fill the gaps by dogmatism. But in one respect the best was the enemy of the good. It is, I think, to his unwillingness to put down on paper anything of which he was not certain that we must attribute the paucity of his published work.

F. G. Kenyon

A good deal of my research work in physics has consisted in not setting out to solve some particular problem, but simply examining mathematical quantities of a kind that physicists use and trying to fit them together in an interesting way regardless of any application that the work may have. It is simply a search for pretty mathematics.

P. A. M. Dirac

The world around us teems with mysteries. There is scarcely one section of it that does not lead to bewilderment which an attempt is made to probe it to its depths. But there is one clue given to us which enables us to thread the maze. However multitudinous, however varied, however confusing in their interaction the laws of Nature may be, we have the firm belief that they are immutable. On this single base rests the whole of Science. The answer that is wrung from Nature by experiment to-day holds good for all time.

The Right Hon. Lord Moulton, KBC, FRS

I long for all academic institutions – colleges, academies, universities – to put up a large notice upon which might be inscribed in bold letters Hinshelwood's words ‘There is no quicker way of making a first-class institution third-class than by appointing second-class men.’

Isaiah Berlin

THE Royal Society and the British Academy sought to capture scholarship and research in the twentieth century. Yet, as the prescripts that introduce this chapter show, such capturing was never clear, certain or coherent. The Royal Society and the British Academy existed to establish their intellectual boundaries but scholarship and research remained indeterminate. Gardner's remark about history being neither pure nor exact but a science nonetheless illustrates scholarship's methodological elasticity.

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Learned Lives in England, 1900–1950
Institutions, Ideas and Intellectual Experience
, pp. 49 - 88
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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